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Wolf’s Rain – Review

Japanese Title: Wolf’s Rain

 

Similar: Ergo Proxy

Darker than Black

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Adventure Drama

Length: 30 episodes (26 in season one, 4 OVA to conclude)

 

Positives:

  • An extensive and varied soundtrack from multiple countries.
  • Great visual quality expected from studio Bones.
  • Solid Japanese voice work alongside the likes of Crispin Freeman and Steve Blum in an equally good English track.

Negatives:

  • Serious pacing issues.
  • The main drive of the plot, the search for paradise, doesn’t have any urgency due to vague objectives and potential consequences early in the series.
  • Four recap episodes in the middle.

I first started watching Wolf’s Rain in 2003 shortly after its initial airing. It took until yesterday, eleven years later to finish watching the anime – I never felt that ‘just one more episode’ drive. Poor pacing issues, vague storytelling, and filler episodes make Wolf’s Rain a difficult anime to invest in.

Wolf shapeshifters were thought extinct for 200 years; however, a few survived and blended into the populace as humans. A white wolf named Kiba follows the scent of Lunar Flowers to Cheza the flower maiden, key to opening the door to paradise. Unfortunately, the villain Darcia, who seeks to open paradise to remove his family’s curse, kidnaps Cheza. Kiba along with three other wolves, Tsume, Hige, and Toboe, give chase to rescue her. Meanwhile, a hunter and his dog Blue track down the pack of wolves, intent on wiping them out.

Wolf’s Rain’s narrative setup is a good one brought down by ambiguity. I understand (and recommend) that a writer shouldn’t lay out all the cards on the table within the first chapter; however, you must at least tell the audience which game you are playing. The narrative structure in Wolf’s Rain is akin to playing poker, only to have someone declare ‘Gin!’ and win the game, which is when you realise you weren’t playing the right game. Wolf’s Rain doesn’t establish the importance of paradise or the relevance of the villain (outside of kidnapping because the plot needed conflict) until late in the series. Furthermore, it isn’t some grand twist. The world is ending and paradise must be opened in order to save it. Only the blood of a wolf and the lunar maiden can accomplish this task. That’s all they needed to state clearly within a few episodes. It seems as though the writers assumed that the audience already knew all of this somehow.

Wolf’s Rain main storytelling device is allegory. Everything represents something. The focus here is on religious pilgrimage and social constructs. The wolves’ search for paradise is their journey to enlightenment, while the government’s extinction of wolves is the suppression of freedom. Looking at the device on a macro level, it is well executed, as the wolves face a dozen trials from betrayal to self-doubt to false hope as their varied personalities clash with one another. That said, it fails on a micro level, the scene-to-scene narrative. Writers can’t just throw something at the audience a claim quality because it’s ‘symbolic.’ Even if something is symbolic, it still needs structure and quality. When using symbolism, ask this: if the audience doesn’t catch the symbolism, will they still understand what is going on? If a character hulking out and turning evil is symbolic of inner struggle, there still needs to be a plausible reason for hulking out into evil. One can’t suddenly make him evil and declare symbolism!

The pacing doesn’t help either. Where some episodes have action, drama, and tension throughout, other episodes consist of nothing more than slow pans across silent scenes where little happens. Yes, moments of silence and introspection can enhance the narrative tension, but here the silence builds to nothing. To compound further, episodes 15 to 18 are recaps of the story thus far from the perspectives of different characters – the same recap four times! One would assume these recaps at least garner extra backstory or maybe revelations about a character’s motives. Alas, no, just filler. Imagine if you had to pay for this back when it was four episodes a DVD.

Where Wolf’s Rain does shine is with its music. Composer Yoko Kanno is to be commended for her excellent work with the soundtrack. She recorded music from around the world to craft an extensive and varied soundtrack. The opening theme sounds like something from Sting, the closing is by Maaya Sakamoto in English, there is European chant, Indian Raga, violin for moments of sorrow, and so much more. Truly great music.

It is a true shame the storytelling in Wolf’s Rain is so vague. As things are, I found the plodding story moments a hindrance to reach the tension. The soundtrack is worth a listen on its own, at the least.

Art – High

Great work as always by studio Bones with attention to detail like persistent battle damage. In human form, the artists managed to convey wolfish characteristics without resorting to clichéd ‘dog-ears-and-be-done-with-it’ design.

Sound – Very High

A phenomenal soundtrack from around the world along with great voice work in both languages. Gravel brothers Steve Blum and Crispin Freeman bring the appropriate levels of growl to the villain and Tsume, respectively.

Story – Medium

An over reliance on symbolisms leaves the plot vague for too long. Also suffers from pacing issues and four episodes of recap in the middle.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Unless you can stand a vague narrative and slow pace, you won’t enjoy Wolf’s Rain. I do really love that music.

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Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive:

Great Music

Negative:

Poor Pacing

Elfen Lied – Review

Japanese Title: Elfen Lied

 

Similar: When They Cry

Mirai Nikki

Deadman Wonderland

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Horror Action Romance

Length: 13 episodes & 1 OVA

 

Positives:

  • An unsettling atmosphere crafted by contrasting the innocence of children with hyper-violent gore.
  • Haunting opening theme and soundtrack inspired by Gregorian chant.
  • The telekinetic protagonist’s volatile nature creates plenty of tension.

Negatives:

  • The clichéd humour doesn’t ever lighten the mood, which can make the constant tension exhausting.
  • The male love interest is a weak character that serves little purpose to the core.
  • In trying to imitate the Japanese voice track too closely, the English voices sound awful despite the skilled actors. The Japanese isn’t ideal either.
  • Outside of action scenes, most animation ceases.

A severed arm twitching in a pool of blood. Decapitated heads sail across the room, blood sprays the walls. Screams fill the air. At the centre of the carnage, a young girl, naked. Don’t be fooled by the innocent looking girl; Elfen Lied is violent and bathed in gore, not an anime for the faint of heart.

In the world of Elfen Lied (German for ‘Elven Song’) exists a race known as Diclonius. Human in appearance other than small horns protruding from the skull, Diclonii control telekinetic arms called vectors capable of tearing people in two with a flick. Their purpose is to eliminate humanity and spawn a population of their own. Lucy, the protagonist, is one such Diclonius, who escapes from the laboratory, massacring guards and researchers on the way out. She ends up on a beach in front of Kouta, the male love interest, and his friend Yuka. Her mind traumatised by a gunshot, Lucy now lies dormant, replaced by Nyuu, an innocent alter-personality with the mental development of a child. The laboratory dispatches other Diclonii and a mercenary to hunt Lucy down.

Elfen Lied is an anime of tension. It juxtaposes the young innocence of the characters with the violent nature of their telekinetic powers. How can something so small be so psychotic? Every scene with Nyuu is tense, for she could snap at any moment. A mere second of lost control and a character loses a limb or their head. A Diclonius doesn’t discriminate. Man, woman, child – all die in Elfen Lied. Elfen Lied is brutal and gory, contains child and animal abuse on physical and emotional levels. Do not watch this if you are prone to nightmares.

Nyuu/Lucy duality brings an interesting dynamic to the story. While her innocence is what keeps the power at bay, it is also her greatest weakness, as she is too naïve to control her power. It reminds of the 1931 Frankenstein film (which I highly recommend, by the way) where the monster doesn’t comprehend that actions have consequences, especially when those actions can be so destructive. Elfen Lied explores the nature of humanity, and what can come from it when a child is isolated, abused, and pushed to the limit. It accomplishes this goal rather well.

Music enhances these moments where a character’s psyche breaks and violence paints the screen. The opening is a tragic Latin opera called ‘Lilium,’ set to bizarre symbolist art inspired by Austrian painter Gustav Klimt. The hymn unsettles, a warning for what is to come. Several versions of ‘Lilium’ play throughout the series and are an important role in the narrative.

Unfortunately, that’s where the positives end. Outside of the Diclonii, the rest of the characters are either underdeveloped or dull. Kouta in particular is weak. While his backstory is good and ties with Lucy’s plot line, as a character he has no purpose other than to serve as a romantic device. He is just so dull. A street lamp with a blown bulb would be more interesting. Yuka is even more useless. She is nothing more than the third point for a love triangle. The writers could have cut her from the series with no effect on the plot. The romance between her and Kouta is lame, filled with generic misunderstandings and anime romance tropes. What little humour Elfen Lied has is trite, seen in every anime teen romance – trip over each other, grabbing the breast, up-skirts, etc.

The average voice acting doesn’t help either. Even though Japan records all actors at once, here they sound stilted with no interactions off each other. The dub is even worse. Kouta’s voice actor is as deadpan as the character, and the female actors tried too hard to imitate their Japanese counterparts, resulting in these awful squeaky voices. No child sounds like that! What’s strange is that the English cast has done great work elsewhere (same team as Full Metal Panic and RahXephon, both great English tracks), but here they sound like amateurs.

Despite all Elfen Lied does wrong, I enjoyed the story. It’s a great example of using gore to enhance the narrative surrounding innocent characters.

Art – Medium

Mouth movements comprise all the animation in most non-action scenes; sometimes, even the mouth doesn’t bother, too exhausted it seems. Other than the action scenes, visual details are low. The manga creator intentionally chose a ‘moe’ artist for the anime to enhance the contrast between innocence and violence. However, this style doesn’t look the greatest, especially on Kouta. Gore and action is great.

Sound – Medium

A great Gregorian chant-inspired soundtrack and tension music brought down by an average Japanese voice track, and an even worse English one.

Story – Medium

Protagonist Lucy carries the violent narrative with her dual personas and volatile nature. Shame then that the other pieces of her love triangle are worthless.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Elfen Lied is a worthwhile anime for fans of uncensored violence. Watch in doses of three episodes at a time to avoid exhaustion from the constant tension.

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Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive:

Great MusicGreat OP or ED SequenceHoly S***

Negative:

Useless Side Cast

Angel Heart – Review

Japanese Title: Angel Heart

 

Related: City Hunter (main series)

Similar: Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom

Noir

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Action Comedy

Length: 50 Episodes

 

Positives:

  • Has a good sense of humour, particularly involving City Hunter.
  • City Hunter is a great character with an equally good voice actor.
  • Haunting music enhances the sombre moments.
  • Starts strong, but…

Negatives:

  • …the plot wanes after thirteen episodes and goes on too long.
  • Start isn’t indicative of the remainder of the series.
  • The few supernatural elements are vague.

Ever watched a show that starts about one thing, only to change direction part way in? Angel Heart is one such show.

Angel Heart starts regarding an accelerated growth fourteen-year-old assassin, codename Glass Heart, who has a sudden moral crisis after killing a little girl’s father. Glass Heart kills herself by leaping off a tall building. However, the organisation she worked for revives her using advanced medical technology and transplanting a new heart into her. This heart belonged to recent accident victim, Kaori, and causes problems for Glass Heart, as she recalls memories and emotions of its original owner.

We are plunged into two minds: the killer instinct of Glass Heart and the kind mercy of Kaori. As Kaori’s thoughts seek out her fiancé, City Hunter – a former assassin turned good guy for hire – police officer Saeko investigates the theft of the donor heart alongside City Hunter, who swears to kill whoever has it. Memories flash through Glass Heart’s mind, conflicting opinions of what she feels for people, and which sentiments are truly hers.

Thirteen episodes in, all this changes as the psychological conflict is no more, the serious tone dropped for a lighter-hearted atmosphere, and the show loses any central plot. It becomes a case-by-case serial where City Hunter takes on various clients. For the most part these individual cases are interesting in their own few-episode stories, but with no overarching plot, there’s nothing to keep me going. Unless it’s a comedy or a near movie-length detective serial (think Poirot), one simply can’t follow this format – yes, one could have a few individual stories peppered throughout, just not as a basis for the show. The arcs themselves also linger for an episode after resolution. The intricate web of X is related to Y, but Y works for Z, while Z wants to kill X, however, A is spying on Y, yet A isn’t what he seems, etc. from the first arc is swept away.

There are a few other minor story related problems; the occasional supernatural elements are poorly explained or vague. The blind barman for example, can know who people are by simply being near them. In fact, this show has that whole ridiculous ‘sense someone’s aura’ to know what sort of a person they are – assassins identify each other this way. Fortunately, this doesn’t amount to much as no conflict is solved through this, meaning it could be removed without effect. There is also that common action trope where bullets seem incapable of hitting a target when convenient, despite being surrounded.

It’s all a real shame, as the characters are quite good: Glass Heart with her dual mind, Mochi the sissy son of a Yakuza boss who has to do whatever people can rope him into, and the blind barman who knocks sense into City Hunter when needed. City Hunter himself is the strongest of the lot, equal parts comedic perv and action man; he’s a good character with plenty of diversity to him. His voice actor does an exceptional job of transitioning from his serious tone to his comedic idiolect. The humour of this show is well executed, even during its occasional presence in the first thirteen episodes, yet it still isn’t enough to carry like in other anime – FMP: Fumoffu, Trigun, etc.

Angel Heart could have been a great show if it had stuck to its original idea of exploring the morality of an assassin. Instead, we are left with many tacked on episodes. It should have been no more than thirteen to sixteen episodes like the original series, City Hunter ’91.

Art – Medium

The art matches the tone of the show’s first thirteen episodes with a mature style found in films such as Perfect Blue and Ghost in the Shell. There is some creative psychedelic imagery at the start, but along with the tone change, such creativity is lost, leaving the unimaginative behind.

Sound – High

The acting is great, even for side characters, and I was pleased to see use of other languages (Chinese, Korean) not just Japanese – in anime, everyone tends to speak Japanese as a first language regardless of what country they hail from. The music is good, ranging from mystery to pop to electro.

Story – Medium

Strong start with the story of a conflicted assassin that unfortunately wanes too soon and stretches too far.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Watch the first thirteen episodes, rest at your own discretion.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative:

DissapointingMisleadingWeak End